Traditionally, the sporting public has not been the most technologically enlightened public. ("What do you mean the Indians' game has already started? The VCR says it's only 12:00...12:00...12:00....") Mention the inexorable progress that the information superhighway is making into living rooms across the country, and nine out of 10 sports fans will cringe and clutch their remote controls a little more tightly to their bosoms. But like it or not, the future is zooming into view, and when it comes to entertainment choices—sports programming included—the future lies in interactive multimedia.
For the most part, multimedia entertainment is carried on compact discs. Those shiny little platters you've been using for the last few years to spin your favorite tunes can store huge amounts of data: words, pictures, sounds and even video clips. Put them all together creatively, and you get a work that combines the visual wallop of a movie, the interactivity of a video game and the information of a book.
Look up Hank Aaron in a multimedia encyclopedia, and you will find a written biography as well as complete career stats. You can also see film of the Hammer and listen to Milo Hamilton call the rightfielder's historic 715th home run at Atlanta Stadium. Browse through the entry on Aaron, and the encyclopedia will offer a look at related topics such as Babe Ruth and the Negro leagues.
The promise of this magical new medium has sent a titanic jolt through the entertainment, publishing and electronics industries. Last year more than 100 million multimedia CDs were manufactured worldwide, creating a $1.5 billion market, so it is no wonder that everybody and his techie brother are scrambling to serve you the future on a silver platter.
Before you can use multimedia CDs, however, you need a multimedia player—a box that hooks up to your TV, or a special disc drive that connects to your personal computer. There are at least a dozen multimedia systems either on the market or soon to be released, but each one, unfortunately, has its own distinct format. To the uninitiated, choosing among these systems is a little like deciding between Beta and VHS, only with six times as many ways to go wrong. And with choices such as 3DO, CD-i, CDX and PC CD-ROM, it seems you need a Ph.D., or at the very least ESP, to sort out the ABCs of this industry.
Not to worry: Here is a primer on the major systems now available, along with a roundup of the best sports titles in each. Consider it a sports fan's road map to the information superhighway.
Polygram, which is owned by Philips Electronics, the Netherlands-based consumer-electronics giant, introduced the first compact disc in 1983 and changed the music industry. Philips hoped to make the same impact in home electronics in 1991 when it brought out its multimedia player, the compact disc interactive system, or CD-i ($499). A machine designed to resemble a VCR, the CD-i fell short of Philips's expectations, although it has carved out a sizable niche for itself.
One of the best sports titles for CD-i is A Great Day at the Races ( Philips, $49.98), a simple-to-use program that walks you through the fundamentals of pari-mutuel betting, from the proper way to read a racing form to advanced handicapping strategies. Once you've got a handle on the basics, you can test yourself by going off to the (virtual) races. Study the field; place your bets; then cheer on the digitized ponies as you sit back and watch a race. Need a tip? You can even get expert advice from—I kid you not—Mickey Rooney. The Mickster weighs in with such incisive commentary as, "This is a well-intentioned filly who just needs to try harder. Go with it." O.K., so he's no Jimmy the Greek.
Another worthwhile title for CD-i is Sailing: A Guide to Sailboating and Seamanship ( Philips, $49.98), which allows you to explore all the parts of a sailboat and test your knowledge of sailing principles. And if you're interested in games, International Tennis Open ( Philips, $49.98) puts you in the role of a tour player and lets you compete against an array of opponents at different venues around the world.